Art and Culture

The Oldest Love Letter

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Although 23 years have passed since I missed that telephone call, I never forgot the message left on the answering machine. The caller was one of the world’s most successful balladeers. Charlie Landsborough’s voice was unmistakable as he thanked me for the impact my poetry had on him.

Although he was unlikely to have remembered me, I first got to know Charlie when he was playing gigs at The Atlantic tavern on Liverpool’s Dock Road in the 1990s.

They were heady days; after my two poetry collections were published, I was presumed to be Britain and Ireland’s most popular contemporary poet. My two 2,000 print-run poetry collections had sold out within weeks which is unusual for the ‘poor man of the creative arts.’

I was pressing the flesh with TV and radio stars and was a regular on radio and television. These include Sir Ken Dodd, Britain’s most endearing singer and comedian and Ricky Tomlinson of The Royle Family television series. The Bishop of Liverpool Cathedral, BBC Radio Merseyside presenters and personalities. I was good friends with the legendary jazz blues guitarist Gary Potter and also Cy Tucker.

Before placing the phone down, I left a message thanking the balladeer and I left it at that. Afterwards, I regretted my failure to invite Charlie to put The Oldest Love Letter to music. I might also have suggested putting to music The Girl I Met in May, Ma Vourneen and My Darling Ma Vourneen (‘My Darling’ in Irish).

The Oldest Love Letter was published on YouTube and was enjoyed an impressive 8,400 times, a figure many household name singers don’t reach. Its three companion Michael Walsh poetry videos were enjoyed by a further 9,000 viewers.

It is likely that Charlie or any competent balladeer having put The Oldest Love Letter to music could have a hit on his hands. Why not, the world’s greatest ballads were created from poetry: It seemed to me that I was just one link in the chain short of success.

Michael Walsh

Many of the most successful songs of all time started life as poems. The war poem Lili Marlene penned by a teenage soldier after being put to music by Norbert Schultze and sung by Lale Andersen became the best-selling wartime ballad of all time. Unlike me, Donovan, the Glasgow poet was not just a poet but a songwriter with a voice to match who became famous for his poetry put to music.

Perhaps one day Charlie Landsborough or a similar balladeer will make his day and mine by putting to music The Oldest Love Letter.

THE OLDEST LOVE LETTER, Liverpool Poet Michael Walsh

2 THE GIRL I MET IN MAY by Michael Walsh

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